Why are writing readiness (pre-writing) skills important?
Pre-writing skills are essential for the child to be able to develop the ability to hold and move a pencil fluently and effectively and therefore produce legible writing. When these skills are underdeveloped it can lead to frustration and resistance due to the child not being able to produce legible writing or to ‘keep up’ in class due to fatigue. This can then result in poor self esteem and academic performance.
What are the building blocks necessary to develop writing readiness (pre-writing)?
- Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers that allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement of the pencil.
- Crossing the mid-line: The ability to cross the imaginary line running from a person’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.
- Pencil grasp: The efficiency of how the pencil is held, allowing age appropriate pencil movement generation.
- Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands in the performance of a task such as handwriting.
- Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading (e.g. holding and moving the pencil with the dominant hand while the other hand helps by holding the writing paper).
- Upper body strength: The strength and stability provided by the shoulder to allow controlled hand movement for good pencil control.
- Object manipulation: The ability to skillfully manipulate tools (including holding and moving pencils and scissors) and controlled use of everyday tools (such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, cutlery).
- Visual perception: The brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of visual images seen by the eyes, such as letters and numbers.
- Hand dominance: The consistent use of one (usually the same) hand for task performance, which allows refined skills to develop.
- Hand division: Using just the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and little finger tucked into the palm stabilizing the other fingers but not participating.
Try this — hold your pencil at the top near the eraser and try to write your name. Pretty tough, huh? But when you hold your pencil the correct way, writing is much easier. The best way to hold a pen or pencil is to let it rest next to the base of your thumb. Hold it in place with your thumb, and your index and middle fingers. See the photo below.
Let the Lines Be Your Guide
Lined paper is your friend! Those lines can help you create letters that are the right size and proportion. Proportion means that one thing is the right size compared with the other. So your lowercase “a” should be half the height of a capital “A.”
Be sure to fill up the lined space completely. Those capital letters should stretch from the bottom line to the top one. Lines also can keep you writing straight instead of uphill or downhill. When you don’t have lines, like when you’re creating a poster, you can use a ruler and draw light pencil lines so your title will be the right size and look perfectly straight.
If your writing is hard to read or you erase a lot, try slowing down a little. For some kids, going slower solves the problem. If you rush, it’s hard to control where you stop and start your letters, and you end up making more mistakes. Did you ever erase so hard it ripped a hole in the paper? We hate that!
Lower the Pressure
Some kids press down really hard when they write. That makes it harder to make the smooth lines needed for writing, especially cursive. Try easing up, don’t grip the pencil as tightly, and let your pencil mark the paper without going all the way through. You’ll break fewer pencil points, too!
TO IMPROVE ABILITY TO HOLD A PENCIL……PRACTICE SOME IN-HAND MANIPULATION TASKS!
In Hand Manipulation
In-hand manipulation is an important higher level fine motor skill. It
involves the ability to separate and use the two sides of the hand, performing
different movements at the same time.
Move small balls around in your hand.
Take two small different colored balls or marbles. Hold one ball in
the palm while moving the other ball to the finger tips. Next, move
the ball from the finger tips back to the palm, and then move the ball
from the palm to the finger tips.
Repeat moving the balls around in the hand.
Putting coins in a bank.
Pick up coins one at a time with finger tips, and move the coins into
the palm. Keep doing this until you have about 5 coins in your palm.
Next, move the coins one at a time to the finger tips and place it in a
You can do this activity using small objects and dropping them in a
Manipulate a pencil.
Practice writing with a pencil, then, keeping the pencil in the same
hand, turn it so that the eraser side is down and practice erasing.
M & Ms in hand.
Pick up one M&M at a time and move it to the palm. Keep picking
them up until you have a hand full. Then move the M&Ms one at a
time to finger tips and eat it.
POWER POINT ON HANDWRITING SKILLS
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GROSS MOTOR SKILLS AND HANDWRITING
The gross motor skills involved in handwriting mainly refer to the postural control that is required for writing. Efficient control of the larger muscle groups in the neck, shoulder and trunk is necessary to maintain stability in order for the fingers and hands to move to complete the handwriting task. As children develop, control and stability begins at the trunk, progressing to the elbow, wrist and finally the hand. With normal development, fine motor skills are developed from gross motor skills. For example, a baby will first learn to swat, then reach, then grasp and then manipulate a toy. Children need to develop the proximal muscles (closer to the center of the body) of the trunk and shoulder girdle in order to use the distal muscles (further from the center of the body) in the fingers and hands. These proximal muscles develop in children with gross motor movements such as reaching, tummy time, rolling, all fours position, crawling, standing and walking.
Children also must develop the ability to plan and execute gross motor skill actions. With handwriting tasks, this motor planning requires muscle groups to work together with the proper force, timing and actions to produce an acceptable outcome (ie legible handwriting). For example, in order to write with a pencil, the brain has to plan and carry out the skill in the correct sequence. Starting with the pectoral muscles, the trapezius and the rhomboid muscles coactivating with the proper force and timing to stabilize the shoulder in order for the fingers and hand to move the pencil along the paper efficiently. Children with decreased motor planning skills exhibit poor legibility of handwriting compared to their peers (Tseng & Murray, 1994).
Eye hand coordination skills require the vision system to coordinate the information received through the eyes to control, guide, and direct the hands in the accomplishment of a given task. Again, this direction requires the gross motor movements of reaching and grading the control of the arm.
DEFICITS IN GROSS MOTOR SKILLS AND THE EFFECTS ON HANDWRITING
As mentioned previously, proximal muscles function as a stabilizer during handwriting tasks. Children with low postural muscle tone may have difficulty sustaining contractions in the proximal musculature. Research indicates muscles that work primarily as stabilizers, display less variability than muscles that work dynamically (Pepper & Carson, 1999). When the proximal muscles stabilize correctly, the decreased variability in the distal muscles has been shown to be associated with a faster handwriting speed (Naider-Steinhart & Katz-Leurer, 2007).
The act of forming letters requires many steps. The more steps required to complete an action results in higher levels of motor planning. Research has indicated that children with decreased motor planning skills exhibit poor legibility of handwriting compared to their peers (Tseng & Murray, 1994).
When the visual system does not send the correct message to the trunk, shoulders and hands on where to move, you are not able to produce coordinated motor actions. Decreased eye-hand coordination abilities have been shown to be predictive of decreased quality of handwriting (Kaiser, 2009).
GROSS MOTOR SKILL ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS FOR HANDWRITING SKILLS
Gross motor activities that will improve postural control and muscle strength in the proximal muscles are beneficial when it comes to developing handwriting skills. Suggested activities:
- Hanging activities – practice monkey bars, chins ups, pull ups or swing from the tree limbs to increase the muscle strength in the shoulder girdle muscles.
- Climbing activities – climb the ladders and ropes on the playground.
- Pushing and pulling activities – pull a heavy wagon or push a child on a swing. These pushing and pulling motions help the shoulder learn to coactivate to produce the right amount of force and stability.
- Weight bearing activities through the arms – animal walks, wheelbarrow walking, crawling, and push ups/planks all help to increase muscle strength and improve coactivation of the shoulder and postural muscles.
- Yoga Poses – provide muscle strengthening and postural control
- Large art projects – hang some paper on a wall or use an easel. Children can reach up, left and right while painting.
Motor planning skills can be practiced with the following gross motor movements:
- Sky Writing – air write the letters using your entire arm describing each step as you go
- Obstacle courses – handwriting requires the ability to formulate a motor plan to complete multiple steps just like completing an obstacle course. Include activities from the list above. For example, crawl to a scooter board, lay on your tummy and pull yourself along a line and wheelbarrow walk to the finish line.
- Body Letter Formation – children can practice making their bodies into letters to improve the imprint on the brain of how the letter is formed. Activities like the Action Alphabet are beneficial.
- Coordination activities – jumping jacks, jumping rope, hand clapping games, etc all require extensive motor planning and coordination skills. Need some ideas for coordination skills – check out 25 Bilateral Coordination Activities.
Eye hand coordination activities to help develop handwriting skills include any type of ball skills – throwing, catching and shooting balls in order to practice guiding the hands to go in the proper direction and location.
MODIFICATIONS TO HELP WITH GROSS MOTOR SKILLS AND HANDWRITING
- First and foremost, children should be properly positioned for handwriting:
a.) the feet should have a stable base of support
b.) hips, knees and ankles should be bent at 90 degrees
c.) desk should be 1-2” higher than bent elbows
You can download a free positioning poster for handwriting here.
2. For proximal muscle fatigue while writing, try changing positions. Perhaps lying on the floor to complete the writing assignment or providing a slant board may help. Try breaking up writing assignments into smaller chunks to prevent proximal muscle fatigue.
3. Take frequent breaks to stretch the muscles in the shoulder, neck and back.
The best suggestion is to sometimes put down the pencils, take a break from routine handwriting practice and get children moving!